Thursday, October 13, 2011

What happened to Europe? And what happened to little pleasures on transatlantic flights?

Please join me as I mount my soapbox. While searching for flights to Kenya, I stumbled on Turkish airlines, a relatively new airline. I am not sure it is a new airline, but I had never heard of it prior to 2 months ago. My mother and my experience have taught me that air flights are not something you skimp on. Imagine the regret when you end-up on a no-name flight as the nervous pilot shakes the plane like crazy at 11,000 feet and blames it on “turbulence;” or the skid landing that he* blames on people’s excess luggage; or the spilling of hot tea on your laps that the flight attendant blames on the narrow inter-seat distance. Of course, you would rather have an uneventful flight with twilight sleep, gorgeous flight attendants and clean enough restrooms rather than having to cuss someone out or scream out to Jehovah, Shiva or Sango to save you.

Ok, ok; I am being dramatic. I did a search on Turkish airlines, and to my pleasant amazement I found that it was rated best airline in Europe in 2010. Best in Europe in my mind meant that it beat out British Airways, Lufthansa, KLM. Turkish Airlines was the $#!+ and it was the cheapest. Do such marriages ever happen? I should have suspected something was not quite adding up.

Pre-flight arrangements were quite smooth. I had a seat; I checked in online. At the airport, the folks working at the counter were good enough, exotic looking with plastered fake smiles and all. Their uniforms had the logo of some Swiss company; which I promptly inquired about. My biases gave me a sense of security; “Oh, a Swiss company is contracted to service the airline’s business; that explains the awesome rating,” I thought.

On entering the plane, it was sweltering! The Mediterranean looking hostesses were prancing up and down the aisle like they were in heaven; I reached up to adjust my personal fan/air-conditioner that usually sits next to the reading light. To my shocking amazement, the personal fan was nowhere to be found; every other unfortunate fellow like me in economy class did not have the amenity. The seats were comfortable enough. They tried to play psychological games on me by giving me a pillow and a blanket; but I was not falling for the dirty trick. The sweltering cabin was not to help me fall asleep; I am smarter than that.

My next disappointment: doesn’t every European now speak English these days? Well, my pilot spoke Turkish and some language; it had to be English but I can’t be too sure because I could probably make out 10% of what he was saying. Hope you are not too shocked at my apparent support of English hegemony, but I think a pilot or his* assistant or a flight hostess should be relatively versed in the official languages of both the originating and destination countries.

As I pile on my quibbles, I admit that I can be a prima-donna sometimes; but in this case I think having high expectations from “the best airline in Europe” was not unreasonable. Here are a couple more minor things, which are probably indicative of broader cost-cutting and corner-cutting measures. Orange juice (OJ)¹ orangeade. OJ is about the only thing I can tolerate on long flights and this is the first time (even on stingy American flights) that I was served some orangeade--less pungent version of SunnyD- in place of OJ with no explanation. Also powdered creamer! Seriously! Is real cream/milk too much to ask?

Overall, I admit that it was an uneventful flight. I would not be &!+@#ing and moaning about fake milk and OJ if the plane skidded or had some significant mechanical dysfunction. It is a technically solid airline after all. However, shallow consumers like me expect to be pampered some, even while flying economy class, from the “best airline in Europe,” perhaps, something on par with Emirates, Qantas or Singapore. I hope the rating agency was wrong and this does not mark the downfall of Europe.

I now dismount by box.

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